Artwork by Kev Carmody. Copyright Song Cycles PTY LTD. 2014

The making of

Photography: C.Y Entertainment

Poet. Radical. Grandad. National treasure. Kev Carmody is many things … He’s also the man who penned the most famous anthem of Aboriginal Australia “From Little Things Big Things Grow” with Paul Kelly. Now Kev’s recording a new album in a converted shearing shed up in Queensland. This film follows his innovative creative process. SONGMAN is a journey into the heart and mind of one of Australia’s pre-eminent creative talents. To be released 2016 on ABC TV.

Kev Carmody is one of Australia’s pre-eminent singer songwriters, a storyteller of Aboriginal and Irish heritage.

Recollections... Reflections... (A Journey), a four CD Deluxe Box Set, is a collection of stories, written and collected over forty years, politically charged, driven by the history of his peoples’ struggles and set on the land he loves.

Born in 1946, Carmody grew up on a ‘hard tack goanna block’ in the Darling Downs area of South Eastern Queensland. His family were drovers and stockmen who lived largely off the land, growing vegetables near the house and hunting.   With his younger brother, from the age of four he interacted and worked with stockmen, drovers, fencers, ringbarkers, shearers and the back country itinerant workers. It was around the stock and droving camp fires that he learned his love for storytelling and music.

When he was 10, Kev and his brother were sent to a ‘Christian’ school. Kev left school at sixteen years of age without completing his senior school years. Kev returned to rural work for the next seventeen years.

At the age of 33, he enrolled in the Darling Downs Institute of Advanced Education to study geography, history and music progressing through to PhD studies at Queensland University. Kev had never been into a library before and had never read a book. He asked his lecturers whether he could bring in his guitar to assist him in presenting his first tutorial. This allowed him to present his tutorial from an oral perspective. 

At University, Kev also took the opportunity to acquaint himself with experimental music pioneers John Cage and Karlheinz Stockhausen. His music would reflect his own Murri culture, paralleling the social history song traditions of Woody Guthrie and Huddie Ledbetter. Kev found here a platform to express his cultural perspective and his musical imagination, as well as a poetic lyrical passion.

In his 40s, he released his first album ‘Pillars Of Society’ in December 1987. Rolling Stone magazine described the album as “The best album ever released by an Aboriginal musician and arguably the best protest album ever made in Australia”.

Four studio albums followed: ‘Eulogy (For A Black Person)’ (1990), ‘Bloodlines’ (1993), ‘Images And Illusions’ (1995) and ‘Mirrors’ (2003). 

With his friend, and great fan, Paul Kelly, Kev wrote ‘From Little Things Big Things Grow’ in the early 1990s, based on the story of The Gurindji Strike and Vincent Lingiari in the 60s and 70s. This song was an expression both of the struggle for indigenous land rights and reconciliation.

A feature artist at many major Australian and international cultural festivals, including folk festivals, Aboriginal celebrations, and world music events such as the Womadelaide and Womad festivals as well as festivals in England, Canada, USA and Europe, Kev is equally at home on world stages as he is with youth and prison inmates, or during his numerous song writing and recording workshops in communities in Western NSW, NT and QLD.

In 2006, Paul Kelly, harbouring ambitions for a tribute album to Kev, realised his dream and Carmody's songs found themselves front and centre in the Australian consciousness, with some of Australia's finest and most diverse artists recording their favourite songs written by Kev. A double album called ‘Cannot Buy My Soul’, featuring performances from Paul Kelly, Missy Higgins, John Butler, Dan Sultan, Clare Bowditch and many more, was released in February 2007 to resounding critical acclaim. Kev’s own renditions of the same songs were released on the second disc, allowing a whole new audience to hear his songs for the first time.

In January 2008 many of the artists who featured on the ‘Cannot Buy My Soul’ album joined together at the State Theatre in Sydney to perform the songs they had recorded on the album.  

Kev was also a recipient of a Queensland Great Award after the ‘Cannot Buy My Soul’ musical family joined together once again in Brisbane at a sold-out concert at the River Stage for the Queensland Music Festival. 

Kev has received a host of other awards in recent years, both by his music industry peers and the wider community. He was awarded an Honorary Doctorate by the University of Southern Queensland in 2008. He was inducted into the ARIA Hall of Fame in 2009. In 2013, Kev was awarded the prestigious Australia Council Don Banks Music Award.

In 2014, Kev was asked to perform at the funeral of former Australian Prime Minister, Gough Whitlam, whose return of native title to the Gurindju people had been depicted in the now-anthemic song ‘From Little Things Big Things Grow’. Kev and Paul Kelly performed the song together in a moving tribute which was seen all over the country.

His songs have become, and rightly so, part of our Australian consciousness, a fact to which the 30 minute documentary, ‘Songman’ directed by Brendan Fletcher will attest. The film, which will premier at the Adelaide Film Festival and screen on ABC TV, documents not only Kev’s fascinating life, but follows Kev as he records his latest release, ‘Recollections... Reflections... (A Journey)’, his first new release in over 13 years.

‘Recollections... Reflections... (A Journey)’ is a 40-strong collection of songs, many written decades ago but never recorded until now. As documented in ‘Songman’, Kev dug out many of his vast backlog of songs, and used the opportunity to explore a huge range of sounds. Many of the instruments used in the recording were furnished from objects found around the old packing shed. Wooden logs, butter knives, bicycle pumps, chickens, and his beloved grandchildren all make an appearance in this eclectic and exciting collection, alongside an array of more traditional instruments and some of the most talented performers in Australia.

The four disc collection will be released as a deluxe set, including a photo booklet, and on iTunes, at JB Hi Fi stores or  follow the links and order online.